Monday 20 June 2011

From mystified to mastering new technologies. Hello, QR codes.

I haven't yet actually mastered this one, but I've always been intrigued by how people grab hold of innovations. What's the process for noticing, understanding, using and finally becoming a creator?

Around the start of this year I’d kept seeing tweets about QR codes and hadn’t got a clue what they were. Eventually I got bored of wondering and googled for a definition.

I realised we could replace the URLs printed on our patient information, for example, with barcodes that would link to our site, but this didn't really excite me as I couldn't yet imagine why anyone would want to - what was the value? Would it really be that much more convenient?

Rabbit, rabbit

The first tipping point came when I found myself actually using a code myself in a magazine. It was an advert for a novel, When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman.

The curious title intrigued me but the advert gave few clues to the plot, just some quotes from reviews and a cover image. The QR code label said “SCAN HERE TO VIEW THE TRAILER”. I wondered how a book could have a trailer. Curiousity sufficiently piqued, I reached for my phone and scanned.

Now I could see the point. I wasn’t going to buy the book but:
  • I’d had a full-on sensory experience, viewing a video that was designed to bring me a flavour of the book,
  • in seconds and 
  • from the comfort of my bed. 
The impulse nature of the action intrigued me and I could see how easy it would have been to progress straight to Amazon’s phone app and order the novel immediately, if I’d wanted to read it. All in under a minute (and without even sitting up). I also liked the way online and offline and mobile had combined, with the use of the video medium (albeit a glorified powerpoint slideshow) to promote a print product, from a phone-activated web link in another printed publication.

Making it work

In a hospital context, QR codes could replace or supplement URLs on the back of patient information leaflets, linking to the website for further information (such as frequently updated lists of dates or videos of patient experiences).

We could also use them on posters or elsewhere to encourage patients and visitors to download their own copy of our literature, to reduce print runs.

And how about putting them in the bottom of display bins and leaflet holders for use when they are temporarily empty? We could monitor take-up of those codes to find out when our displays need refilling.

The next step is to try it!